Reflections from Two Weeks

Two weeks have passed at Drylab. The temperatures have reached 110F, but the mornings and evenings offer relief. Water use has increased as heat has increased. Average use is two gallons a day personal and seven gallons communal, which means we have built up a surplus. Showers are happening more frequently. With the heat and working on site projects, we are sweating more. Gray water is building up enough to flush toilets for now, and outhouse is almost complete.


Over the course of the past two weeks the nature of this existence has become more clear.

Living with limited resources can not simply boil down to survival technique.

The future is living through intention.

Every action counts.

And sustaining this existence demands community.

Respect, patience, and understanding allow for a healthy environment, in which all walks of life can bring their creative problem-solving to the table.

Negotiation demands compassion.

And when we receive, we say thank you.

Because living from three gallons of water per day, is just as much about the individual actions I take, as it is about the other pair of arms helping me carry the water home.

NAYARA: Its now been two weeks together with these women, this desert and 4 gallons of water a day. A few things have changed, I feel less anxious than I did when I got here, at first I was so use to always doing stuff, it was hard to sit still or wake up and have nothing planned to do for the day, I guess the capitalist modes of production have been ingrained in my behavior to the point where I would feel guilty for not producing. This is a process of unlearning, and though I am not there all the way yet, I am starting to be able to wake up without my day planned and feel okay with letting life happen and see where it takes me. Even without anything structured I still feel busy, I am either writing, reading, exploring, blog posting, or building/fixing this place up. Every other day I am cooking for the group and every other day I am cleaning. Every night we have a meeting and we rotate checking in on housekeeping and group dynamics. We are getting better at the housekeeping, there was awhile where we needed to learn how to live communally but we are all being more mindful of sharing space with so many other people. The group dynamics are pretty good, some hierarchies have formed mostly around age, there has been some frustrations but we mostly try to keep in good communication so we can resolve things as they arise, instead of letting them build up. I am starting to develop friendships with all the women here, it feels like a family all of us together. My energy levels have remained pretty low, the sun has a lot to do with that, as well as amount of water and type of food I am eating. When it gets over 100 I do not move out of bed much for the hottest part of the day, because our AC is weak and there is no escaping the heat. I use and drink less than a gallon a day, this is probably not enough because my throat remains dry and my lips are constantly chapped so I think I have been in a mildly constant state of dehydration, not because of the scarcity of water, I just can’t get enough in me every day to offset the effects of the heat. I like this place, I feel safe, I wish I could stay longer.

KIRSTEN: It’s officially been two weeks since these women started occupying this place in the desert, living off of 4 gallons of water a day. Today marks my twelfth day here. When I first came to this place, I was nervous, anxious, scared, and overwhelmed. I was coming into a space with seven strangers and had to navigate not only these new personalities, but also how to live off of 4 gallons of water a day. It has been a balance of community dynamics and sustaining a common resource. At first, I felt as though time moved in slow motion. Days were long, dry, and hot. I really wondered if I could be happy here, if we could all truly be happy here, or if we would constantly be uncomfortable and long for a now dry home we could never return to.

There were certainly actions and behaviors that used an abundance of water that I was used to doing, but have learned now to overcome. I think critically and creatively about my water usage and how to be efficient. Showering continues to take a lot of effort and I never feel really clean. However, there is some excitement from knowing that it is possible. That I can sustain myself on 4 of less gallons of water a day for all of my needs is a comforting thought. I’ve learned to pass my time, but also be productive. I cook, read, clean, work, adventure. I have so much time here to really think and exist in the space. I think part of my anxiety in the beginning came from not being busy, which I am so used to. It’s liberating to have this time to reflect and think, even if sometimes that means not being sure what I should do.

I also feel stronger, healthier, and more energetic. The combination of drinking an abundance of water and eating a sustainable/ water efficient diet has helped my skin and emotions. I sleep so well. I can think clearly. My nervous ticks that I do when I am anxious have subsided to a minimum. I believe that any new environment requires time for people to adjust and learn. However, while it may be different that what we are used to, I know that we can find happiness here. A sustainable and environmentally conscious life does not have to battle happiness, it just has to prove that capitalism doesn’t buy it.

SAF: It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I’m a lot more okay with the way my body works than before I came. I’m also a lot more in tune with how it reacts to food, water, and heat. I have never been in an environment like this, where I am unable to escape the heat during the day. I have no choice other than to experience it.

The desert has forced me to slow down. At the same time, I feel a lot more active here than for a good time previously. Perhaps that is simply because I am much more aware of what I’m doing as I move from place to place. I am aware of every single day, though if you were to ask me what I did the day before, I couldn’t tell you. My skin is browner, from dirt and sun, the spotty, pink tinge fading.

I have not noticed my relationship with water changing that much. I grew up near the ocean, so the lack of availability of natural water, I notice. I am, perhaps, dirtier than I’ve ever been, and I like to childishly splash in public fountains just to feel it on my skin, but the wind is a good substitute for those feelings and memories. I pay much more attention to the preservation of gray water and the clean water I drink, but I have always been aware of my own water usage.

I am finding the flow of myself and I will be sad to leave this place and these people. I am not used to living with so many people and in a strange way, I am finding my voice among them. At the organization, I was a minor member. I was never in the discussion on what to do and was only told what I would be doing after the decision had been made. I am enjoying their company, simply for the sake of who they are. I am worried that when this is over, I shall have to have them arrested.

MOSO: The first week here was a bit like being the first person to wake up at a slumber party. You know, not really sure what to do with yourself until everyone else wakes up. I’m not used to waking up at 5:30 a.m., but the sun pours light into my room when she wakes so I wake up, too. I would not call myself a morning person, so I didn’t know what to do. And no one else was up for usually another hour or two. I made breakfast. I cleaned. I just sat and did nothing for a while. The thing is, I wasn’t lacking in things to occupy my time, I just wasn’t used to doing things in the morning. I was also a bit paralyzed reflecting on where I’ve found myself: on the run from the government, in the middle of the desert with seven other women and enough water for a month, unsure of my husband’s fate, not sure what the next weeks will bring. You can speculate “what if this and what if that,” but you never know what it’s like until it actually happens. I knew it would get here eventually. I was physically prepared, but not mentally. Abandoning my busy life, I was lacking a sense of purpose. I mean, what are we doing out here except surviving?

I am comfortable with this way of life: reducing, reusing, recycling. It is how I have been living since the drought hit. I use an average of 1.5 gallons a day here. On the hotter days, I use more, drinking and soaking my bandana to stay cool. It’s an odd choice to settle in the desert. It is both forgiving and unforgiving. It is an adjustment, living in the heat with little air conditioning (it doesn’t cool below 100F on the hot days), but my biggest adjustment has been living with others. My husband and I have been on our own for a while. The city is full of people, but you don’t have to see them. We have a small place on the outskirts of the city. We used to have a small hemp farm, a garden, a few alpacas and sheep, and chickens, but with the draught and water restrictions, we couldn’t sustain it. We manage to have a small garden now and a small patch of hemp (it is quite resilient). Like I’ve said, we keep to ourselves. We usually go on missions alone, and water delivery is done discretely to not attract attention. All that to say, I don’t mesh well with others, especially for prolonged amounts of time. I especially don’t live well with others, yet here I am, a loner living with seven other women.

This past week started out unbelievably hot: 105-110F. It was as if there was no escape from the heat until the bottom of an old salt water tank here finally corroded out and rained down several gallons of water. We had been told that tank dried up a few years ago along with the rest of the desert, but somehow, there was still a little water in it. It actually felt like a miracle, and those have been hard to come by the past years. My spirits picked up after that, along with the rest of the group I think. I finally figured out how to be productive in the morning and became more comfortable with doing nothing during the daytime. I’m still cooking and cleaning here and there, but mostly I’ve been drawing, reading, and resting. I filled bottles with sand for the outhouse, helped fix the fence. Now it’s the end our second week here, and I’m finding a sense of purpose, even if it is a simple one.

SKIP: We hit the two weeks mark here at Dry Lab. I am adjusting. Things are starting to level out and become “normal,” but what is normal I ask? Normal is living communally with 7 other women with limited resources. They say you don’t really know a person until you live with them. I would like to add that sometimes you don’t know a person after living with them. The hardest adjustment has been learning to navigate a space with others where everything is shared, learning on a personal level but also communally. I’ve been pretty independent most of my life. I’ve done the roommate thing, I’ve lived in the dorm, I come from a household that fluctuated between 5 and 8. I thought I knew how to live with people. Dry Lab has shown me that I do not.  Living nomadically brings you across interesting folks and places, this place definitely makes the top 5 for both.

The women are lovely, I don’t want it to come across as if they are not. We all just have different life stories, different reasons for being here, and different experiences of being on our own. There’s a divide between needing structure and direction, and not wanting anything to do with it. This made that first week very long and full of meetings, stressful but also nice having my brain occupied by other things. We are starting to get each other, things are getting easier and happening more smoothly. My brain is starting to unwind, I’m still waiting on that to make sense.

I find my schedule to be pretty constant. I wake up with the sun around 5:30 but stay in bed until about 6-6:30. I’ve been having tea on the porch with some of the girls the past couple of mornings and that has been really nice. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, check-ins, and whatever in between. The constant heat definitely took a toll on me the first week, naps were happening often, not just to escape the heat, but because the heat completely drained me. The second week started the high heat, 105-110F. Those days were hard, nothing helped. I used a lot of water just soaking myself to stay cool. I felt weak, sleeping at night was hard. But I am now acclimated and the temperatures have gone down a little.

The food has been absolutely amazing. I enjoy being surrounded by so many knowledgeable women! I enjoy to cook, but I keep it simple. Since I’ve been here, I have spent so much time in the kitchen absorbing everything I can! I made enough curry for 2 meals for 8 people with leftovers, talk about meal prep! That has been pretty exciting, I would love to take these skills back home and cook for my family..

The water has not been much of a problem, I am averaging about 2 gallons a day, give or take depending on my workload and the heat. My hardest struggles with that have been controlling make anxious ticks if you would call it that. When I feel like I don’t have control of a situation I find control in cleaning something, the space I’m in, and/or my body. I will wash my hands compulsively because everything I touch is “dirty.” We don’t really have running water here and I’m not really into cleaning my hands in a wash bucket., I’m adjusting. Things are getting easier, the group is getting closer, my focus is getting sharper.

NADIRA: The hotter it gets, the less I want to do, and the less water I drink. I have had to change my cleaning habits. I used to be so particular and extra about cleaning and I’d rinse and re-wash my rag several times while washing dishes and whipping counters. I have to be conscious of my water use though, especially because we clean with communal water.

Some of the many influences had on me are the simple and significant acts of sharing thank-yous and being conscientious of other peoples time, space and resources. Like Hastings roller.

I have been cooking three times out of the week (every other night except for Monday). I like to cook Southwestern Mexican dishes. One of my most practiced love languages is gift giving, and I love making the women happy through tasty and enchanting meals. The flavors remind me of my grandma. It’s sweet to hear the nice compliments about the food, but it’s hard to enjoy and a pang in my heart to think that my time with my grandma is over. When I was younger and fearful of the climate change that only in my imagination, I worried most about having to choose to be away from my family. I couldn’t imagine life without them, and here I am. I thought I would have my partner too, but the circumstances are from what I had imagined. I am in good company here, we are all missing someone. I’ve got a headspace full of regret and missed “how are yous” and “I love yous”, missed quality time. But perhaps now I’m spending my time becoming the person my loved ones always needed me to be. Grandma always said, “if you can’t survive when I’m gone, then I didn’t do my job,”

A part of me feels guilty for spending so much time in my head, still, instead of immersing in research and art. How can I negotiate a purposeful life within water scarcity when I am negotiating in my head how to be a functional human mentally? Alas, true purpose can only come with time. On the contrary, true fulfillment comes from cultivation. Like what Mr. Gilmer said at my high school graduation 10 years ago (10 years!)… “Don’t chase your dreams; cultivate them.” I’m doing a bit of that now, writing this reflection here.

The train runs every 20 minutes carrying excessive amounts of cargo from China. Mass consumption economy is a main driver of water caused the crash, but of course we’ve found a way to blame immigrants. I’m reminded of it every time.

Yesterday I went to the train track and wondered what would happen if I jumped in front of it. I can’t believe those thoughts have become so natural. I think it’s because I desperately crave an end to the endless cycle within my mind, “You’re taking up too much resources. You are the disease, and not the solution…”

but I won’t do it. I never will. Nayara brought up a good point: we think of ending our life to end our suffering (albeit self-inflicted), but what if suicide causes us to remain in our suffering for eternity? I’m going to stay alive. No matter how much I struggle to justify my existence as a human born in America, and no matter how much I tell myself the lie that I am worthless and that I will never change, I am going to stay alive. And while I here, I’m going to let myself believe that I am a part of the solution.

Lots of really bad things happen, and a lot of those things are a result of my species and the lifestyles we’ve overdone. However, perhaps life isn’t all about negotiating the bad and the good but instead a balancing act of negotiating the bad with good.

I don’t see it as an inability to live sustainably as a society, but an issue with unwillingness to change our lifestyles. We needed to be resilient, change our behavior and take care of each other, all of us. Instead, we went to war.

I think there is hope, though. There are inklings of new visions of living not for convenience and overtones of the negative consequences of alienation.

A few quotes from these past few weeks:

“You know that saying, ‘work smarter, not harder’? Well why not both and get twice as much shit done!”

“I had an eating disorder when I was younger [relating to my own self harm], and it was important for me to recognize how I thought myself into that situation and then I thought myself out of it. I’m happy now.”

“You’re here, alive on this earth. You need to consume to live. If you’re gonna be consuming resources, you might as well do something great with your time”

JACK IN THE DESERT: When I first got here I would wake up early, make a tea and sneak out into the desert to spend a few hours of my morning alone before returning to the responsibility of the group. Breathing in the creosote, looking for rocks, following the patterns of the washes, encountering the crepuscular beings with bodies that blend so perfectly with their surroundings. There was a whole lot more life out there than what was visible from the Drylab compound.

From our back deck the desert was a backdrop for navigating this new situation of living together with limited resource. But being out in the middle of it— looking and listening and smelling and feeling it closely— it was a series of networks each dictating how the other could survive.  Everything that is surviving is doing it together, using what they need and sharing what they have.  It was this model that made the responsibility to the diverse needs of the group feel less overwhelming, and the responsibility to the entire network feel ever more pressing.

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